Feel the wind blow from wild ocean cliffs, see the South Island’s mountain peaks and truly enjoy this one-of-a-kind capital city.
While to some visitors Wellington is simply a hub, a transfer town to the South Island, for others it’s a city teeming with good eats, countless craft beer pubs and an idyllic waterfront designed for strolling, but its best secrets lie in the surroundings.
As a capital city with more restaurants per capita than New York City, it’s easy to spend your days sipping perfectly poured coffee and window shopping down Cuba Street, yet this local writer urges you to strap on your hiking boots, pack a lunch and explore Wellington’s best trails.
When my partner and I first moved to Wellington, we immediately started searching for trails. With no mode of transportation, we accessed the region’s best walks via bus, train and our own two feet. Whether you spend a few days or weeks here, make it a point to hit one of the following trails to see the beauty that surrounds the coolest capital city in the world.
Short walks within the city limits
Park your campervan at the Barnett Street Car Park located in the heart of the city (only self-contained vehicles) for just $30 a night and walk up to the most popular viewpoint in Wellington city. Stroll along Oriental Bay, the city’s own man-made beach, and wind through the neighbourhood streets via steep sidewalks. From there you’ll reach the town belt, a large dense forest that wraps around the city offering plenty of walking and mountain bike trails. Keep climbing until you reach the 360 viewpoint taking in Wellington’s skyline, harbour and airport views.
Insider tip: head up for a sunset, pack a picnic and take the little path to the left of the stairs (about midway up) to find a much-less busy spot to watch the sunset over the back hills.
Hop in your car, RV or hire a bicycle to head around the bays to Breaker Bay, a rocky beach with views of the Rimutakas. From the beach parking lot, follow the coastline and you’ll see a grassy path on your left heading up. Climb to the top point to explore abandoned WW2 bunkers and feel like your miles away from any big city.
Looking for a free self-contained camping spot? Head to Evans Bay Marina carpark, less than 10 minutes away from Point Dorset.
For a beach stroll with views of the South Island, head out to Owhiro Bay for Red Rocks walkway. Home to fur seals and unique volcanic red rock, this is the southernmost point of Wellington. On a perfectly clear day, you may catch mountain peaks of the South Island’s Kaikoura Range. There are also a number of trails heading up if you’d like to get above the rocky cliffs and the car park offers free self-contained vehicle spots for up to four nights. Wake up to the waves crashing and thank me later.
Multi-hour hikes around the capital
Northwest of the city is a little suburb called Makara, home to less than 800 residents. The only way out here is via car and just a head’s up, it’s a windy one. Drive until you hit the beach and head up the path to the left. Find bunkers, dramatic cliff edges, windmill farms and a clear view of the South Island, Mana Island and Kapiti Island. Do the full lap if you don’t mind walking on a rocky beach otherwise head to the top and back down the same way. This is always our favourite, local spot to take our visiting family and friends.
While driving to Makara, you’ll pass the start of a big, one-way hike aptly named the Skyline Track. Because the start and finish are on opposite sides of town, I recommend taking the number 2 bus (Karori) to the end of the line. Walk up to the start (about 20 minutes uphill) to begin the trail. Walk on the ridgeline that surrounds New Zealand’s capital city while passing local farms. Walk the entire trail (13.4 kilometres long) in about six hours ending in a neighbourhood in Johnsonville. Grab a train from this suburb, a 20-minute walk from the trailhead, to head back to the city centre.
This hike also includes my favourite viewpoint in Wellington, Mount Kaukau. For those short on time, drive to Khandallah Pool or train to Khandallah station and climb an unfriendly amount of stairs to reach exceptional views of the entire Wellington region – incredible at sunrise and sunset.
Paekakariki Escarpment Track
When my partner and I found out about a new track that hovers along the Kapiti coastline, we immediately jumped on board. From Wellington, we took the train to Paekakariki station, grabbed a quick coffee in the small seaside town and asked for directions to the trailhead. It didn’t take long for the local council to pop up signs as locals and tourists flooded in for the talked-about trail. Also referred to as the Stairway to Heaven, this track brings you high above the sea for panoramic views of Kapiti Island and the stunning coastline. Plan around three to four hours for this 10-kilometre hike which finishes at Pukerua Bay train station taking you back to Wellington.
*Make sure to follow signs as many tourists are confused upon arriving in the area.
I also highly recommend camping on this coastline. Both Paekakariki and Paraparaumu offer plenty of options including beachfront spaces.
Who knew this cool little capital had so much to offer outdoor lovers? Next visit to Wellington, make the time to hit these breathtaking trails.